The Descent is a seven-novel series by S.M. Reine. Because it has magical elements and takes place in a city, this would be categorized as urban fantasy; however, the complaints I’ve heard about the urban fantasy genre — moody vampires, gratuitous sex scenes, and an all-powerful protagonist — aren’t a problem in The Descent novels. Catch the conversation around urban fantasy in the comments of my review of Death’s Hand, the first novel in this series.
Elise is a kopis — a person born with extra muscle growth, faster healing, and paranoid watchfulness. She’s not only a rare female kopis, but the best kopis in the world: the Godslayer. James is an aspis — a witch — who creates his own kind of magic on paper, which almost no one else can do. A kopis and aspis are often paired in order to bond together and be a team for the rest of their lives. It’s such a strong bond that if one dies, the other pretty much shrivels up and dies, too. The whole point of the kopis and aspis is to make angels and demons follow the Treaty of Dis, which keeps the chaos at bay with rules about Earth. You’ll learn more about the rules of the Treaty as you go along.
Elise’s character is determined, rough around the edges, can’t stop / won’t stop, and almost feral at times. She’s also intersex, which isn’t a big part of the novel but does change how readers may feel about Elise’s future. Even though she has zero attachment to babies and children, the option isn’t there to start a family or accidentally become pregnant. She’s described as “. . . more like fighting a forest fire. She didn’t know how to surrender or be vulnerable. And she was never affectionate.” James had been married before, grew up in a coven, and was a prodigy witch. He and Elise met when he rescued her from the frozen landscape of Russia, and how she got there is a mystery for a lot of the series.
Each book feels like a complete “episode,” but the entire series together creates a new world, one in which demons and angels come to Earth and cause problems. You learn about Elise’s fascinating history and James’s largely normal past, which collides with his present as part of a demon-and-angel fighting team. The characters try to live civilian lives; James owns a dance studio and Elise becomes an accountant for demons on Earth. She has a roommate and a boyfriend, and James is dating a medical doctor. But the demons and angels keep violating the treaty, and the team must decide when to punish and when to turn away. They don’t have perfect morals that force them to help.
All the characters are amazing, even the secondary and tertiary. Unique traits and some dry humor make for a fantastic reading experience. I loved details like the demons speak different demonic languages and dialects, and the angels are not “good,” they’re servants of God, who can be an angry, selfish piece of work. There are plenty of other kopides and aspides in the world, too, so you get some big, brutal battles between factions that feel the way to enforce the Treaty should be more draconian.
The series gives a nod to working-class people; James and Elise aren’t paid most of the time, going broke and hungry while kopides and aspides who get themselves more organized have a uniform look to their high-tech equipment and compounds. Actually, it reminds me of the movie Twister in which Helen Hunt’s team is so home-made-duct-tape, and Carey Elwes’s team has corporate sponsors and matching cars.
Best of all, Elise and James develop as people, and you always want to know what the f**k is going to happen next???? Though there are seven books, each one evolves our two leads in amazing, breath-taking, unexpected ways that twist your heart like a Rubik’s Cube and gives it back to you anew. The setting changes, too: they are largely in Reno, Nevada, but travel to other countries and different planes. Reine interweaves religion in a clever way that complicates the plot development, but this isn’t Christian fiction. It’s more of an invented world that uses some familiar faces, like Metatron, but his personality and deeds are invented.
I’m being careful with this review, and more vague than I like, because I don’t want to spoil anything. One of the beautiful aspects of The Descent series is the way the action keeps up, but the truth and history are rolled out as needed in a highly satisfying way.
*Reine does change her prices now and again, but currently The Descent complete series is 99 cents on Amazon.